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COLON v. COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY

March 22, 2004.

ETHEL COLON, Plaintiff,
v.
COMMISSIONER OF SOCIAL SECURITY, Defendant



The opinion of the court was delivered by: GARY SHARPE, Magistrate Judge Page 2

DECISION AND ORDER

I. Introduction

  Ethel Colon alleges that bilateral carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis in her neck and knees have disabled her, and challenges the denial of disability benefits by the Commissioner of Social Security. Having reviewed the administrative record, the court concludes that the Commissioner's decision was based on substantial evidence, and affirms.

  II. Procedural History

  After Colon filed for disability benefits in August 1997, her application was denied, and a hearing was conducted by Administrative Law Judge Joachim Volhard (ALJ). A vocational expert (VE), William Armani, testified at a supplemental hearing. In January 1999, the ALJ issued a decision denying benefits which became the Commissioner's final determination when the Appeals Council denied review on February 8, 2000.

  On April 10, 2000, Colon brought this action pursuant to 42 U.S.C. § 405(g) seeking review of the Commissioner's final determination. The Commissioner then filed an answer and certified administrative transcript, Colon filed a brief, and the Commissioner responded. Page 3

  III. Contentions

  Colon contends that the Commissioner's decision is unsupported by substantial evidence, and erroneous as a matter of law. Specifically, she maintains that contrary to the testimony of the vocational expert: (i) she is physically incapable of working as a video surveillance monitor; (ii) such positions do not exist in the regional economy; and (iii) 100 such positions do not constitute a "significant number" in the regional economy. She also argues that the ALJ erred when he failed to conclude that she was "disabled" due to "significant erosion" of her "occupational base."

  The Commissioner counters that substantial evidence supports the ALJ's decision because he properly relied on the VE, including testimony about the existence of a significant number of jobs in the national economy.

  IV. Facts

  Colon was forty-seven years old at the time of the ALJ's decision, and has an eleventh-grade education. (Tr. 64, 84). From 1988 to July 21, 1997,*fn1 she worked as a parts assembler and welder at a medical equipment manufacturing facility. (Tr. 84). The job required her to stand Page 4 for about eight hours, walk for one hour, frequently bend, constantly reach, and frequently lift, push, and pull boxes weighing approximately ten pounds. (Tr. 85).

  In her SSA disability report, she asserted disability because of "burrs in the neck, arthritis in the neck . . . carp[al] tunnel in both hands [and] arthritis in [her] knees." (Tr. 80-85). She complained of daily fatigue and wrist and neck pain. Later, she stated that she needed the assistance of her husband and daughter while shopping, cooking, and cleaning. (Tr. 90-94). She also stated that she experienced wrist pain when writing, pushing, or pulling, that she needed to change positions frequently due to constant neck pain, and that her symptoms had progressively deteriorated. (Tr. 93, 96-97).

  A. Medical Evidence

  1. Michael Tan. M.D. (orthopedic surgeon)

  Dr. Tan, Colon's treating orthopedic surgeon, diagnosed her with frozen shoulder syndrome and early carpal tunnel syndrome in 1991. (Tr. 200). In 1994, he performed carpal tunnel release on her hands. (Tr. 92, 201). In 1996, he diagnosed her with degenerative disc disease of the cervical spine, and continued his diagnosis of carpal tunnel syndrome. Page 5 (Tr. 190).

  In 1998, Dr. Tan completed a medical assessment report, and estimated that Colon could lift and carry a maximum of twenty pounds, and ten pounds occasionally or frequently. (Tr. 178). He indicated that the impairments did not affect her ability to stand, walk, and sit. (Tr. 179). He found that she could frequently climb and balance, and occasionally stoop, crouch, and kneel. (Tr. 179). However, he found she could not crawl, since "forward flexion is markedly affected by neck discomfort." (Tr. 179).

  Noting neck stiffness extending into the base of the neck, shoulders and arms, Dr. Tan found that Colon's reaching, handling, feeling, and pushing/pulling functions were affected by her recurring symptoms of bilateral carpal tunnel, and diagnostic evidence of cervical disc degeneration. (Tr. 180-81). He also found that her impairments caused environmental restrictions, including temperature extremes, humidity, and vibration. (Tr. 180). He opined that Colon "cannot perform her usual highly repetitive assembly work, which in addition requires repetitive neck, head and eye movements." (Tr. 181). Page 6

  2. Joel Amidon, D. O. (osteopath, Rome Medical Group)

  In October 1997, the Rome Medical Group assessed Colon with degenerative joint disease of the cervical spine and post-release carpal tunnel syndrome. (Tr. 98-101). A month later, Dr. Amidon, an osteopath in the Group, indicated that Colon had been complaining of "severe neck pain, upper back pain, and pain that goes into her hands bilaterally," symptoms which were exacerbated when she turned her head, moved, or sneezed. (Tr. 160). An MRI was negative, and he recommended "vigorous physical therapy" to treat her symptoms, caused "probably [by] some ligamentous strain." (Tr. 157). A Social Services assessment indicated that Colon was able to lift, carry, push/pull a maximum often ...


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